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David Akiva
David Akiva, BA, MA,
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 167
Experience:  Counselor; Behavioral Consultant
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My nephew is 16 and has recently discovered a social life.

Resolved Question:

My nephew is 16 and has recently discovered a social life. He didn't socialize much before this year because he would spend every summer away at his dad's which he now refuses to do. That's ok, but he has a big group of friends now, plus a girlfriend (who is only in grade 8) and he is doing nothing in school. He used to be a pretty decent student He is trying to convince his mother that he has a learning disabilitiy which she has agreed to have him tested for, plus he is going to a psychologist. She has tried every form of discipline she can think of -- he is failing ever subject now even gym. He is clearly not motivated, but he sure is motivated to socialize. Should she take all of his social activities away including seeing the girlfriend until he straightens out. She tried it for a
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  David Akiva replied 6 years ago.

Therapist :

Hello. Welcome to I have a lot of experience working with teens as psychotherapist and behavior consultant so I think I can provide you with a strong answer just based on the information you’ve provided me here.

I’ll give you the ideal disciplinary and positive behavior change scenario based on strong empirical evidence and clinical practice.


But I should state up front, that this issue becomes more complicated as the boy’s mother is exploring the learning disability (LD). His history of strong academic performance up until the increased socializing with peers is highly suggestive that there is likely not an LD. It can’t hurt to rule one out though. The best way to do so is through a full psycho-educational evaluation, usually done by a licensed school psychologist.


Yet given the correspondent drop in academics to the increased social life, I would want to test an evidence-based parenting strategy before spending so much money on a formal assessment; unless of course there is some indication that there is some sort of late onset LD. For example, sometimes a mild LD will not show up until the difficulty level increases in school work, which can often happen around grade 10 in subjects like math and science etc. Again, the evidence is in favor of a mild behavioral issue here not an LD, - gymnastics and other courses shouldn’t be failed here across the board. Getting the behavior under control is very important for the long term.

As for the optimal parenting strategy, which can be applied with or without the psycho-educational assessment, here are it’s basic components:


1) Yes, all privileges should be taken away, but not as a punishment. They should be taken away to create a clean slate, where in all privileges can gradually be earned back through by following through on basic behavioral expectations, like attending classes, doing nightly homework assignments, getting to bed by 11 at night etc, -everything that is conducive to increasing his academic performance again.


2) Setting up home school communication may be necessary. That is, to e-mail or talk regularly with the boy’s teachers or principal. If needed, a daily teacher check-list can be provided and signed by the teacher in each class. A simple check mark beside “completed homework”, “paid attention” and “was fully prepared for class” can be implemented if the lesser communication strategy fails.


The parent can check in regularly with the teacher to make sure that the daily check list is really being filled out. Such a checklist will allow for daily problem solving and joint parent-teacher learning about what’s really getting in the way of academic performance lags.


3) Specific and measurable performance goals can be set up on a daily and weekly basis. If he attends classes, submits his daily check list and does his homework, he can then start to have access, relatively quickly to his household privileges like TV computer, video games and cellphone.


What the research shows here is that the high levels of motivation for the privileges can be transferred or shifter over under those low motivation behaviors (like attending class, doing homework etc) that will get him back on track at school. The idea is not to punish at all and never to argue. Just to give clear expectations, instructions and academic performance goals, monitor his behavior at first very carefully on a daily basis, and give him access to increasing privileges with increasing academic performance.


Increased socializing and time with his girlfriend (which should be supervised whenever possible given his age and the typical risk of early pregnancy etc.) can be awarded after at least 2 weeks of good steady performance. So you’re not punishing here in a clinical behavioral sense you’re re-shaping, monitoring and rewarding desired behavior that is healthy and protective for this young man and kids his age generally. This is also a way to protect him from negative peer socialization effects of hanging out with the wrong crowd or getting into the wrong behaviors. He’s at risk for these now with diminished school performance.


What I’ve provided is brief overview of behavioral science approach that is best-practice based in very large amounts of clinical research. Functional family therapy and MultiSystemic therapy uses these approaches and are viewed by the federal government as best-practices or blue print programs.


If you want to develop a specialized program that your nephew gets directly involved in creating and implementing, leading to increased buy-in and success, I would have his mother contact a board certified behavior analyst and ask around for an BCBA specialist who can work on targeting major increases in your grandson’s academic performance and reducing negative peer socialization.


If there is adult supervision such an intervention is very unlikely to fail. You may actually be able to work with a BCBA master’s student who is accumulating supervised hours for his or her board certification. I’d call or e-mail some BCBAs in your area to see if anyone would like to work on such a project as part their training and certification. Then you get 2 Behaviorists for the price of 1, - a supervisor and a trainee. The BCBAs are most often the best experts to turn to for behavior change interventions like this one and even if you pay an hourly rate, it is usually much more affordable than a psychologist or psychotherapist and gets literally measurable results.


They also provide you with tailor made data collection and observation tools. You could have a BCBA quickly design a level system for the young man at home and a specific correspondent reward or access to privileges program very affordably. I’d go with a behavioral change intervention before the full psycho-educational assessment. You can forward my answer here to a BCBA to give them a very good idea of what you need to save you much further time and money. But remember, mom has to buy in to this first.

Here are some BCBA links to help you learn more:


Here’s a link to find a BCBA or BCBA student:


Well, I sure hope this answers your question satisfactorily. If you feel I’ve missed something please let me know so I can try to improve my answer for you.


If you find value in my answer please don’t forget to press the “Accept” button. I look forward to your positive feedback, and I wish you and your family the very, very best!


This is very helpful I think. I think a lot of the problem comes in when they start to "argue" about it because it just distracts from the true issue. She really did take away all privileges for awhile and he got better for some time but then dropped off the minute she lightened up.

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